Big turnout at first design meeting for 34th/Barton P-Patch

Should it stay or should it go? The fate of the big birch tree shown above is one of the issues that came up as about 50 people joined in the first design meeting for the new 34th/Barton P-Patch, Saturday afternoon at Southwest Community Center.

Landscape architect John Barker, who’s leading the design work, told attendees that an arborist checked out the tree with him earlier in the day, and proclaimed it to be perhaps the healthiest European paper-birch tree she had seen in the city. On the other hand, materials prepared for the meeting show it casts a significant shadow, so the design process will have to determine whether that’s an impediment to maximizing the site, or perhaps a feature for cool shade on warm summer days. Toward the start of the meeting, a show of hands was requested, and the “keep the tree” hand-raisers significantly outnumbered those supporting “take out the tree” – which is the only tree of any kind on the site. Barker estimated that it would cost about the same to keep it or get rid of it.

But the tree’s future was just one topic, albeit one that took up a fair amount of time.

Beyond that, the heart of the meeting involved giving each of the 8 tables of participants a large photocopied sheet of paper with a basic image of the site, and “gamepieces” – as one attendee dubbed them – to place on the site to show what features they would favor.

For example, as Barker noted, depending on the size of the plots, the site could hold more than 50 individual gardens, given its size. Here’s another perspective:

Barker said, “We are really excited about this site because it’s a big site, really visible, great solar exposure for the most part, and could potentially change the character of the neighborhood.” (And yes, the soil has been tested for safety, he confirmed.)

Before the two-hour meeting wrapped up, each of the eight groups sent a representative up to the front of the room to explain what they had come up with. One group favoring removal of the birch tree suggested planting fruit and nut trees along the street instead. Another group suggested a pathway through the site, acknowledging the fact that it’s used by some as a walking route anyway. Several made a point of proposing plantings to screen the P-Patch from the house on the south side of the site – such as a fence on which fruit plants like blueberries and kiwis could grow. One group wanted to be sure there would be a bike rack; some called for arts and crafts areas, features specifically for kids, and even water features. The fifth presenter said her group liked so many of the potential features, “we threw almost everything in there,” with slightly “chaotic” results. And another of the groups that designed the P-Patch with the birch tree remaining suggested gathering spaces beneath it.

According to Laura Raymond from the city’s P-Patch program, about $35,000 is budgeted to design and build the features for the large lot, procured through the Parks and Green Spaces Levy (local community leader Pete Spalding, now chairing the levy’s Oversight Committee, was on hand for most of the meeting). She said this is the first time in the P-Patch program’s 37-year history that money is available for brand-new gardens. It’s been almost two years since the possibility of turning this site into a P-Patch came up at a PGS committee meeting (here’s our report from that meeting in May 2009), a few months after the city had declared the property surplus and solicited suggestions for its future.

So when will the sprawling lot – east of the new 7-Eleven and south of the newly reopened Tony’s Market – actually be in service? Raymond projected that’ll take six to nine months. “But the fact you’re all here,” she told the attendees cheerily, “is going to make it happen faster.” Next step is the next design meeting on March 1st; that one is also at SW Community Center, but it’s in the evening, 6:30-8:30 pm.

What happens between now and then? Barker said the eight concepts will be summarized “in words,” as well as analyzed for how many times in all, between the eight concepts, certain features were mentioned, “so there will be a statistical analysis … Our plans will be based on your plans. March 1st, we’ll bring that all back to you – that’ll get turned into two or three plans, and then into a plan that hopefully everybody likes.”

In the meantime, the city website for project information is here – and that page has information on how to share your thoughts about the new P-Patch even if you can’t make it to any of the meetings. Lots of volunteer work has gone into the garden so far, and lots more is needed, even for the committees that already have chairs, so you can use the information (including e-mail addresses) on that page to get involved, too.

20 Replies to "Big turnout at first design meeting for 34th/Barton P-Patch"

  • KevinE February 13, 2011 (5:26 pm)

    I can’t wait for the P-patch to go in — it will make such a huge impact on the neighborhood.

    Now if only we could get rid of the three huge limos that are always parked alongside Barton & in the alley next to that lot, as if it were a personal garage.

  • MMB February 13, 2011 (6:06 pm)

    Keep the tree. Sometimes when it’s really hot in the summer, plants like lettuce really need some shade.

  • Marc February 13, 2011 (6:14 pm)

    Arriving at concensus in public forums is a slow process. My respect to those who do this, what patience. I can not believe the incredible luck that allowed the city to make such a good decision, had the money to make the purchase, and allowed this plot to be used. The Solar exposure and access could NOT be better, it could become one of the premier P-patch gardens in Seattle (with effort).

    Be aware that as a public project, good ideas do not come first, public agreement comes first. AND, if you want to volunteer time, effort, and sweat, understand that after clean-up, the agreement may change position, in time (i.e. taking Whole Foods’ new interpretation of ‘organic’).
    This it is just the nature of that beast. Be ready for it.

    If you want free garden space, the city and the P-patch organization ought to expect that ‘someone’ gets the most of that opportunity. The free land is not at no cost, less $, but that may be repaid with interest in time and effort.
    It is probably worth it, for green thumbs and want-to-be’s who can give back to a local food bank, and the unfortunate souls who feel the need to harvest your produce to feed themselves.

    IMO removing the stunning Birch specimen will prevent many problems, esp. assigning shady plots. Birches are touchy, see any one that has been ‘pruned’…adjustment is just not in this plant’s nature. As impressive as this specimenis, it’s the wrong tree for a vegetable garden.
    The only constant is change, and this area is no longer a public yard, short-cut, picnic area, or Limo parking lot…
    it will become a garden for those willing to work for it.

    I hope folks will understand if this tree does get removed, that it is because it needs to…and that this decision (if arrived at) is not without a LOT of debate or heart-wrenching commitment to changing a little used public space into a garden for the benefit of the whole community.

    To those of you with us this past Saturday, there are PLENTY of opportunities to involve yourselves, and there will be a couple more meetings where these decisions are going to be made. Feel free to be a part, hopefully a beneficial part, of this long and winding process.

  • Genesee Hill February 13, 2011 (6:18 pm)

    Good luck on the limos.

  • visitor February 13, 2011 (6:20 pm)

    thanks for this great report!

  • SarahScoot February 13, 2011 (6:25 pm)

    But Kevin, I think the limos lend your ‘hood a “classy” vibe. ;-)

  • bridge to somewhere February 13, 2011 (8:06 pm)

    Irony is removing a beautiful tree so folks who fancy themselves “green” can plant some vegetables.

  • JumboJim February 13, 2011 (9:30 pm)

    Except that most of those greenies present voted *not* to remove the tree…. Fancy that.

  • dsa February 13, 2011 (10:52 pm)

    The tree takes up a lot of real estate. Those that voted to keep it, get the shady plots.

  • pitstop February 13, 2011 (11:41 pm)

    The birch only shades a quarter of the property and can be thinned to allow filtered shade. The shallow roots can be worked around with raised veggie beds and metal roofing to stop feeder roots. Just got to water alot as the tree will take its share. Plant the veggies that send deeper roots farther away. The raised beds will help from street pollution.

  • sean February 14, 2011 (7:26 am)

    As far as I know there is no such thing as a European paper birch tree. The tree in the photograph appears to be a European white birch (Betula pendula) tree. The difference is significant in the eyes of the City. A Paper birch (Betula papyrifera)tree is considered to be exceptional at 20 inches in diameter and the European birch at 24 inches. The exceptional status may or may not apply but if it does the City will have more control over the process of removing the tree.

    I also say if the plan is to keep the tree you should start planning now. Sheet mulch around the base to remove the turf and start to prep it for the onslaught of the root system. If everyone is going to hang out under it for shade keep a 4 inch thick mulch layer to reduce the negative impact of soil compaction below the feet of the shade seekers.

    • WSB February 14, 2011 (7:35 am)

      Sean – FWIW that’s what I heard the landscape architect call it … but I will check with him to see if that was either his or my error – TR

  • Laurie February 14, 2011 (9:05 am)

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but it looks like the birch is to the North of most of the lot. Its shade shouldn’t block the sun except at the very end of the day, no?

  • Lynn S February 14, 2011 (10:02 am)

    Quick check on life span of birches – 30-50 years is the max, more likely 20 years in a city. This one, while healthy (for a birch!) is probably toward the end of its lifespan. Soil compaction lessens the health/longevity. Gardening under this tree, or using it as a gathering spot, will lessen health/longevity. Birches are magnets for aphids. It is not appropriate for the site/purpose. I love trees – but this one should go.

  • Gatewooder February 14, 2011 (1:53 pm)

    Lynn has has it right. Trees and vegetable gardens don’t work too well together. Woodchip the tree for mulch if that makes everybody feel better about losing it.

  • toddinwestwood February 14, 2011 (3:42 pm)

    Is there a way we can incorporate the limos into the design process?

    • WSB February 14, 2011 (3:50 pm)

      TIW, if you weren’t at the meeting – the subject of the limos DID come up. Apparently their owner was not present. But he is certainly welcome, as is anyone, not just immediate neighbors! – TR

  • Marc February 14, 2011 (7:24 pm)

    Great feedback. I am impressed. Trying to support discussion here, and hopefully another round of “feed-back-and-forth”…

    @ mmb, Birch trees shade less than most. If you want to have tasty lettuce in a full sun plot (which this is) you need a cloture (cloche) to control your plant’s environment. Trusting your leaves won’t bolt early or taste bitter too soon is a gamble r.e. the consequences of extra sunlight at the risk of losing a growing season for a learning curve.

    @ bridge to somewhere, you might want to mention the roughly 10,000 square feet of grass and weeds that are going to die as well as the single tree. And, while the tree makes shade for the odd picnic or small gathering, this garden will become a gathering place routinely, as well as contribute to local food bank stores.

    @ JumboJim, there was a prefunctory ‘vote’ before any discussion, but no decision in community organizing is binding.
    Be aware that those involved since August either voted to kill the tree, or didn’t vote.

    @ pitstop, this tree species is NOT amenable to being thinned, pruned, reduced, or managed in any of the traditional meanings like domesticated fruit trees allow.
    As evidence, see one on 49th & Spokane…so sad what someone can do to a tree with loppers and a pruning saw.This is how the “Plant Anmesty” group got going.
    Planning to organize & manage a garden with ‘one hand tied behind your back’, putting imitations on volunteer participants just makes it harder and harder to do a good job. It seems to me counterproductive of limited time and resources. Just my opinion, and I wish it was not the case here.

    @ Laurie, yes the tree is to the north, but it shades the entire center of the lot, minus a sliver shaded by the neighbor’s structures. That it is not in the short-cut pathway is probably what kept it from having foot traffic and soil compaction, and why it is such an impressive specimen.

    @ Gatewooder…your moniker inspires me to suggest that we use the WOOD to make a GATE ;-)
    I guess, if I am going to dream, I want to dream BIG!

  • Stonehedge Tree February 14, 2011 (8:25 pm)

    Save the tree. There are too many trees being removed these days whether they are alders, birches,or paper birches. A good layer of mulch around the critical root-zone may help protect it along with some shallow cultivation. With a little bit of creativity, gardeners should learn how to adapt to living around trees. If you need some wood to build a gate out of let me know and I will donate wood from a previous tree removal

  • Marc February 15, 2011 (2:26 pm)

    @ StoneHenge Tree
    (you are aware that henge means circle?)
    I agree that there is a lot of irresponsible removing as well as ‘trimming’ or ‘pruning’ of trees for a variety of reasons.
    Assuming that this is a bad reason, OR
    that it will be done irresponsibly, OR
    the tree will prosper w/ANY cultivation under it, OR that ANY compaction will be healthy for it
    is in total denial of the unfortunate realities of changing a park-like lawn space into a garden, and the species specific details of this tree.

    More importantly. If you want to save this tree (forever) it probably means being personally involved and committed for this tree’s lifespan.

    I welcome the opportunity for you to do so.
    It is here for you and all others who are of the same opinion. The more like minded individuals that contribute the more likely that they will realize their goals (whatever they might be).

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